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no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

   – Warsan Shire

In my work, I’m always trying to understand something, or remember something, or even celebrate something – in that you can’t hide or be dishonest.

But regardless of what kind of work you do, you will still always be pigeon-holed into something because it makes other people feel comfortable. I mean if it wasn’t “so brave”, it would be “so African” or “so Muslim”. And although these titles are part of who I am, why would I write to that?

Warsan Shire – poet, writer, educator, editor – was born in Kenya to Somali parents and now lives in London. In 2009 she wrote “Conversations about home (at a deportation centre)” after a visit to the abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome that some young refugees had turned into their home. The night before her visit, a young Somali had jumped to his death from the roof. Her visit made her realize what it meant to live an undocumented refugee in Europe. She said:  “I wrote the poem for them, for my family and for anyone who has experienced or lived around grief and trauma in that way.”

That work became the basis for Home.  

Ashley Cecil, Refugee Women 2007

I’m from Somalia where there has been a war going on for my entire life. I grew up with a lot of horror in the backdrop – a lot of terrible things that have happened to people who are really close to me, and to my country, and to my parents; so it’s in the home and it’s even in you, it’s on your skin and it’s in your memories and your childhood. And my relatives and my friends and my mother’s friends have experienced things that you can’t imagine, and they’ve put on this jacket of resiliency and a dark humour. But you don’t know what they’ve been victims of, or what they’ve done to other people. Them being able to tell me, and then me writing it, it’s cathartic, being able to share their stories, even if it is something really terrible, something really tragic. Sometimes I’m telling other people’s stories to remove stigma and taboo, so that they don’t have to feel ashamed; sometimes you use yourself as an example. –  Warsan Shire from a 2013  interview with Katy Reid.

Daniel Garcia, Immigration 2015

Samella Lewis, Migrants,1968

Samuel Bak, On the Road 1992

The Refugees, 1931 by Tamara de Lempicka

Featured image: Joel Bergner: Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp, Jordan, 2013: This piece was created in collaboration with Syrian refugee children, and explores the importance of water conservation, especially for those who suddenly find themselves stranded in a desert.

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